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Field Notes: A Beach Study

By Erik Hogan

Florida is a land steeped in memory, synonymous with escape from school or work. My grandmother lived there. I’ve visited its various beaches countless times. My own kids chased crabs and explored the surf at various stages in their lives. It is an iconic land of tropical heat, low puffy clouds lingering over white sandy beaches, and vivid warm sunsets. Slowly churning in the background is the ever present pulse of the sea.

Our last trip was in July of 2020. While the world was still gripped in pandemic madness, Florida remained mostly free. At Miramar Beach on the Gulf of Mexico we enjoyed a discount rate on a condo rental and very light crowds on the beaches. We saw manatees and a sea turtle from the Okaloosa Island Pier. The weather was perfect and my son pursued a spontaneous interest in saltwater fishing. Those memories are strongly ingrained in our minds.

After several years of misaligned schedules we grasped an opportunity to return in the first week of March, the off season.


Evening on the day of our arrival. Warm sunlight on the skin is quickly negated by the chill in the wind. Bare feet in sand are caressed by the cold. The sky burns as the sun slips below the horizon.

Ahead, the vast expanse of ocean whispers in a voice instantly familiar. Yet, the message is not what I remember. It describes different season, with enigmatic temperatures that are never quite warm nor too cold.


Fog over the sea, and some rain. An impenetrable mystery. The relentless undulation of the waves roll through muted shades of slate and steel gray, streaked by green bands the color of tarnished copper.

Alone, I stand in the raw surf, listening to the wind and tasting salt. I can only look towards the obscured horizon and remember warmer experiences.


Very close by is Topsail Hill State Park, named for pristine dunes that resemble a ship’s sails. It is a day of exploration on miles of trails in this unique ecosystem.

Campbell Lake is one of several coastal dune lakes in the area. These lakes are a rare occurrence, found in only four other locations around the world- Oregon, Madagascar, Australia, and New Zealand.

Inland, this area is flat and dominated by pine forest. Closer to the shore, the shrubbery covered dunes ripple up and down the coast. Though rugged in the face of the harsh winds from the sea, these dunes are fragile to human exploration. Trails lead to the beaches, but miles of dunes are protected from human intrusion.


Overcast wandering on the beach. The sun battles clouds for dominance of the sea and sand. Again the nostalgic waves pull me into retrospection.

For the birds, this landscape is ordinary, but I see novelty everywhere. A patch of light in the clouds. The highlights of water as it curls over on itself. Perhaps I cannot return to a cherished moment in time, even in a destination saturated in memory, but in these things I find the allure of the present.


A final day. Clouds move and shift in the morning light. This day becomes a study of color.

I breathe the ocean air deep into my lungs. These impressions, and the photographs that capture them, are now imprinted as new treasured memories in my mind.

So, why wasn’t this trip to the beach and adventure? For one, I really struggled to write anything interesting in this issue about the trip. I now realize that this is because it was a vacation. It was important time with my family, centered around recovery from the chaos of life and simply spending time together. That is a different purpose for travel, but it can be better than any adventure!

I really like how some of these photos turned out, in the end. I hope you’ve gotten some value out of them, as well. I did record some of my hikes at Topsail Hill State Park, but I haven’t decided yet if I will make a film of it. I have something a little different in mind for next week, anyway. Stay tuned!

Erik Hogan is a photographer who primarily shoots landscape, wilderness, and nature scenes in the Athens area.

Follow on Instagram @erikhoganphotography Erik's sketchbook includes a look behind the scenes, with an option to purchase a limited number of prints through the link in his bio. htttps://

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